LONDON, 8 July 2020 – In July this year, Sotheby’s will offer for sale a masterful still life by the Scottish Colourist Samuel John People. Unseen for almost fifty years, and never previously offered at auction, Still life with Tulips and Fan comes to the market from a Scottish private collection. Estimated at £300,000-500,000, the painting will be presented for sale in Sotheby’s pioneering cross-category evening auction in London on 28 July, Rembrandt to Richter, where it will be offered alongside the season’s top Old Master, Impressionist & Modern, Contemporary, and Modern British works, including one of the last self-portraits by Rembrandt remaining in private hands.
Thomas Podd, Sotheby’s Scottish Art Specialist, commented: ‘We’re thrilled to offer this painting in the context of 500 years of art history. Peploe not only established an important connection with European modernism and the Post-Impressionists in Paris, but his lineage can also be traced back to the Dutch masters of the 17th century, artists such as Ambrosius Bosschaert, who is represented in this sale. On a quest to create the perfect still life, Peploe established himself as a daring British modernist who forged a radical response to a centuries-old tradition.’
Samuel John Peploe was one of the finest still life painters of the 20th century and one of the most radical and avant-garde British artists of his day. Born in Edinburgh, he was influenced from an early age by the Dutch masters who graced the walls of the Scottish National Gallery. Peploe found some initial commercial success with a series of luscious table top still lifes – paintings combining creamy brushwork and punctuations of vivid colour set against dark black backgrounds that owed much to the work of Ambrosius Bosschaert, Willem Kalf and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. He inherited the meticulous and exacting technical skill of these masters and this studious and rigorous approach would remain a constant throughout his career.
In 1910 Peploe moved to Paris where he remained for two years, finding inspiration within an artistic milieu that transformed his painting and defined his artistic style. He met Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso and absorbed the aftereffects of Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, and he also became fascinated with the work of Paul Cézanne whose structured analytical take on both landscape and still life subjects would have a profound effect on his painting. The artist wrote in 1929: ‘There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what-not – colours, forms, relation – I can never see mystery coming to an end’.
Peploe moved back to Scotland before the First World War and began to paint a striking series of still lifes with tulips as the focus. Defined by their bright colouring and bold composition, these works were considered to be ‘ultra-modern’, and their forceful effects were recalled by the artist’s great friend and patron Major Ion Harrison, whose collection was sold at Sotheby’s in 2018: ‘Mr Peploe had an exhibition of flower pictures, mostly, so far as I remember, of tulips…I had never seen anything in art similar to these pictures… They really startled me for, to my eyes they were so ultra-modern. The formal way in which the tulips were painted, and their brilliance of colour against equally strong draperies, was at that time beyond my comprehension’.
A joyous celebration of colour painted in a bold modernist style that owes much to the influence of Matisse and Cézanne, Still Life with Tulips and Fan was completed in 1923 at the height of Peploe’s artistic powers. The planes of brilliant colour are overlayed by the sinous arabesque forms of the tulips to create a dynamic, rhythmic and perfectly balanced composition. This work stands as an exceptional example of Peploe’s life-long preoccupation and dedication to the still life and his mastery of the genre.